“NOW JUST A DARN MIN-NUT!!”, The True Essence of Bob Clampett’s “Beany and Cecil”

Our red-blooded "sea sur-pent" in puppet form (1949, above) and animated (1962, above right)

Our red-blooded "sea sur-pent" in puppet form (1949, above) and animated (1962, below right)

by Kevin Wollenweber

I was listening to the commentary tracks found on disk four of LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION, VOL. 3, especially John Kricfalusi’s enthusiastic talks
during some of his favorite Bob Clampett cartoons included in that program, like “GRUESOME TWOSOME” and “FALLING HARE”, noting the overall work of Bob
Clampett as a major influence for many facets of his own “REN & STIMPY”series and his ways of approaching characters that are not his own. It must
have, therefore, been a blast for John K. to have had a shot at directing and writing his own “BEANY & CECIL” series as his tribute to the man who was his artistic hero.

In the commentaries, John K. says that Bob Clampett was the king of mischief, of the double entendre, the gag that could mean something other than what you might have thought it meant as a kid viewing it for the first
time, and there are indeed times this is true. There was that gag that apparently was often cut from TV airings of “AN ITCH IN TIME” in which the dog gets bitten by the flea and  goes rolling from one corner of the room to the other, dragging his bitten posterior on the ground and yowling, pausing only for enough time to pant and say, as an aside to the audience, “Hey, I’d better cut this out. I might
get to like it!”

This sophomoric little audience aside–one of many such quirky
little verbal and visual pranks played on the viewer–came directly from Bob
Clampett’s personality and was also a major part of the ever-comic Cecil,
the Seasick Sea Serpent, one of the major players in this terrific little
time capsule of a TV cartoon show aired during the early 1960′s. Unlike the
humor found in theatrical cartoons (which could sometimes go by at an
incredibly fast pace, to where an audience could miss it unless their eyes
and ears were glued intently to the visual and the soundtracks) any sly
innuendo or audience asides, in the age of TV and its more limited budgets,
usually came not from the graphic, but from the dialogue. This is possible
for two reasons.

.The fully animated show, “BEANY & CECIL” was actually the return to these
characters, introduced to TV watchers in the late 1950′s in a live puppet
show that Robert Clampett produced, called “TIME FOR BEANY”. The show
gained a major reputation among older viewers, even moreso than kids, because
the whole show seemed to be improvised as things went along–with some of
the snappiest dialogue and topical or pop cultural references that had ever
been heard in such a program. With voices like Stan Freberg and Daws Butler
on hand, you know that dialogue was going to play a large part in the
success of this show. It certainly added to its warmth and
unpredictability.

So, once the puppet show came to an end and Bob Clampett
returned to the medium of animation, as the art was created for television,
the cartoon reflected the great and seemingly improvised dialogue found in
each of the episodes of “TIME FOR BEANY”.

Also, when Bob Clampett began the task of redesigning his characters and
learning about this new age of TV animation, he realized, as did others like
Bill Scott and Hanna and Barbera before him, that animation done for
television had to be done on a limited budget–not only would networks
not pay the cost of an elaborately animated show, but an
animator and his staff had to produce so many shows a season.

Yet, in producing the “TIME FOR BEANY” show for TV, Bob Clampett learned that he
could get the same unpredictable humor out of a show’s dialogue as he got
out of his full theatrical animation.  To this humble toon fan, the “BEANY & CECIL”
cartoon show, launched as part of the “MATTY MATTEL’S FUNDAY FUNNIES” series
(which, from 1959 until that time, had run old Famous/Paramount/Harvey cartoons) was
as good as that “GRUESOME TWOSOME” and that naked little genius, later
dubbed Tweetie Pie.

What must have delighted animation historians who remember the television work of Mr. Clampett is that the former theatrical animation director–one of many working for Warner Brothers–got in his digs and inside jokes aimed at that past as a theatrical animator and possible newspaper comic strip author, knowing what we’ve known (or think we’ve known) of Clampett’s dealings in the industry. (Some of it truth, some of it legend, but he certainly liked to slip in situations that link back to those golden halceon days back at Warner Brothers.)

In one episode, “THE WILD MAN OF WILDSVILLE”, the protagonist, a kind of manic Tarzan complete with hipster wit (voiced, I believe, by beatnik entertainer Lord Buckley), encounters Cecil who tries to fit him with a straight-jacket. But the Wild Man ends up tying Cecil up in the jacket with the sleeves resembling the long ears of a certain wascally wabbit. Cecil can do nothing but look sheepishly out at his viewing audience and intone a paraphrase of Bugs Bunny’s famous few words when we first meet him, “what’s up, Pops?”

Another rather ghoulish character (dubbed Edgar Allen Poehouse, for some reason) talks with the baby talk affected by Elmer Fudd. But his old creations were not the only thing that Clampett loved to lampoon. Perhaps the most famous bit of humor came in an episode called “BEANYLAND” in which Beany, the
little boy with the small cap on his head with propeller, dreams up his fantasy land/theme park, calling it, of course, Beanyland, as the title implies.

Yet this is not (as is said in the dialogue) “a place made by a mouse”, but a place made *for mice”, on the moon–once the “orange cheese groves” were cleared away, and the rides and spectacles set up, that is. Beany & Cecil’s nemesis, Dishonest John, acts as that often-rumored darker side of the Disney mindset: the entrepreneur, that greedy so-and-so that seemed, in the end, to enjoy nothing more than making sure that he got the best of anyone he encountered. But Beany saves the day when old D.J. succeeds at first in destroying the joy found at Beanyland by just wishing on a star and–poof!–the park returns, to the chagrin of old D.J.

One other episode, “CECIL’S COMICAL STRIP” has Cecil trying to sell all kinds of bizarre comic panels to an underwater newspaper tycoon, with Clampett actually fitting in parodies of just about every then popular  newspaper strip, adding many a quick adult reference to each parody, like “Li’l Arfin’ Fanny (with her pet
cat, Sandy Paper)”, “Perry & the Parrots”, “Dick Crazy, the Defective” (to which the senior editor snarls “that square face can never catch on!”) and Mary Net Worth” (in which her fast-fading elderly mother calls for a shot of cough syrup “on the rocks with a twist!”).

Yes, “THE BEANY & CECIL SHOW” was now as snappy as Bob Clampett’s craziest and more expensive LOONEY TUNES cartoons, but with a hipster wit and pop culture references at such a rate that many perhaps went over the heads of the kids as they watched. I have to admit, however, that I personally did not care and loved every minute of this show.

I hear that it is coming soon on DVD in another volume from Classic Media. I’m hoping that this is not rumor and that there is certainly more to the proposed contents than originally mentioned in the article found on tvshowsondvd.com. So, if you’re as big a fan of this show as I am, please pop up on there and scream its praises, or write Classic Media and tell’em how you feel. Knowing that there are people out there who care enough will certainly insure multiple volumes covering, one more time, the entire run of “BEANY & CECIL”!

So I, too, will report on this as things develop, or do *NOT* develop around this proposal. I was delighted when the VHS tapes had come out, giving us as much as could be found on the fully animated cartoons; then, the one existing DVD came out featuring not only 12 or 13 cartoons from the animated
version of this show, but episodes of the original live puppet show, “TIME FOR BEANY”–with interviews over time with Robert Clampett himself as a special feature, giving us his take on the wonder years, growing up in the glorious age of theatrical animation.

Will this forthcoming disk have many, many extras as found on this one disk already floating around out
there? Who can say. I’d just be glad if this marks the beginning of the outpouring of the entire series that we’d gotten on VHS, perhaps with little bits and pieces that the tapes had missed, like the intros, outtros
and twisted coming attractions to all the half-hours.

Watching the “BEANY & CECIL” cartoon show was perhaps my high point as a kid. I can’t say that I was extremely close to much pop culture out there over the decades, but this is truly something that, along with many, many theatrical cartoons that dated back to the early ages of talking pictures, changed the way I looked at kids’ cartoons! This one, to me, was consistently fun!!

“BEANY & CECIL” had some of the most colorful characters ever assembled for such a TV series, like Pop Gun, a grizzly old curmudgeon inspired by pioneer and mountain characters of legend played by actor Walter Brennan, the Singing Dinah Sor, a rather jazzy prehistoric creature inspired by singer and entertainer Dinah Shore, (long before she went country and had her own daily talk show in the afternoons). Not to mention my favorite, Venus the Meanest and her little menace named Vennis, partially inspired by Hank Ketcham’s famous cartoonized little boy who unintentionally gets into mischief, only now reworked as a space alien robot visiting Earth to have a picnic, bringing her own robot ants and her little boy who seems to like eating anything in sight, at one point belching up a mouthful of nails straight at the camera. When Venus discovers Cecil, playing with the infant Vennis, she happily tells her neighbor with whom she continuously gabs on the interplanetary telephone, “if I play my cards right, I think I’ve found a father for Vennis! He’s a regular Robot Stack!”, to which Cecil replies, “yeah, but I’m totally an UNTOUCHABLE!” (get it? the star of the then popular TV crime action show, “THE UNTOUCHABLES” was Robert Stack.)

What can I say? I love this series, guilty pleasure or not! In fact, with all the old cartoons going to CGI box office motion pictures, it might be fun to bring back the “slerpin’ sea serpent” and his devoted human and his uncle Captain Huffenpuff, the saltiest coward of ‘em all, for another go-round. It certainly can’t hurt things when you think of how successful or unsuccessful other attempts have been. If it had anywhere near the wit that the original two shows, “TIME FOR BEANY” and this fully cartoonized
“BEANY & CECIL” had, I know I’d love the results, even if it went over-budget and longer than any other epic fantasy franchise.

No, I’m not deluding myself into thinking that it would mean immediate success in this cynical world in which animated cartoons have to be family friendly or else but, like the “gullible tall toad” or “armless harmless” as he is semi-affectionately called throughout the series, I’d feel as if the
adventure were worthwhile and could garner new fans for the characters. Hey, c’mon; they did it with “SCOOBY DOO” and, to some, it worked. I ended up liking the movie far more than I could have ever liked the original Hanna-Barbera cartoon show. I’m close to this Bob Clampett cartoon show,
though, so I might be a bit put off if the resulting flick just “didn’t understand” the twisted charm of the original.

It couldn’t completely hurt, either way. At least we’d get the cartoons just in time to promote such a possibility, and I wish all the best to Classic Media, no matter what this disk or disk set turns into. I’d want the whole series and extras. They need consultants, perhaps, even beyond the members of the Clampett family to tell of the show’s history, but I’d sure be up there somewhere in Beanyland should the whole series eventually end up on our video shelves once again.

4 Responses

  1. I lived in Compton, Calif. and watched the puppet show, I believe on channel 5, KTLA. Do any videos of those original shows exist today? Beenie, Cecil, the Captain, etc?
    Thank you, Roy L Schmidt

    • You’re right…I believe it was on KTLA originally, then KTTV (channel 11). As to your other question, oh, yes–there are indeed copies of the original shows on VHS and DVD. You might want to start here.

  2. When I was a little kid, I sent for a beanie copter off of a cereal box top. I’m sure it probably said wait 6-8 weeks for delivery, but when your a little kid that seems forever, but when it finally came I spent hours winding up my lid and pulling the string!

  3. [...] and “FALLING HARE”, noting the overall work of Bob Clampett as a major influence [...] The Home For Orphan Toons This entry was posted in Animation and tagged Cecil”, Clampett’s, DARN, Essence, Just, [...]

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